Monday, October 16, 2006

"We the People" Keep Growing

On Tuesday, October 17, 2006, the United States of America will reach a population of 300 million. I could write something really, really long and well-written about this momentous event. I could wax poetic about the changes America has gone through since 1915, when the U.S. population reached 100 million people. To see the differences between today and 1967, when the U.S. population reached 200 million, I will simply direct you to certain websites, such as CNN, which has a great graphic on the subject.

Or, you can click on one of the two links provided to see what the U.S. Census Bureau has to say on the subject:

Nation’s Population to Reach 300 Million on Oct. 17

Facts and Figures

For now, I’ll keep it short myself (I can hear the collective sigh of relief) and let the late, great Chairman of the Board, Frank Sinatra say a thing or two as well (click on the embedded YouTube video).

There are a lot people in the world who dislike, or outright hate America. We know this. We’re reminded of this on a daily basis. At the same time though, there are still apparently enough people both inside of America, and who yearn to immigrate to the United States from outside of it, who see enough good in it, enough opportunity provided by it, to keep it going – and to keep it younger than an ageing Europe and Japan. Sure, China might have over a billion people – but it’s also got 800 million living in abject poverty.

Those cynics who think there isn’t all that much to celebrate in the embattled, embittered America of today need only look at the numbers. As one newspaper commentary I read last week put it, "America has 300 million reasons to celebrate." Yep.

300 million reasons to still hope for, and work toward, a better future. 300,000,000 reasons to be optimistic.

Why? Well this week - and all of the time, really - it’s "especially the people" who we owe thanks to.

"The House I Live In", version 1974 - Frank Sinatra

Sunday, October 15, 2006

The Endurance of "Freedom"

“SPQR” – “Senatus Populusque Romanus”, or “ the Senate and People of Rome” – was a government slogan used both when ancient Rome was a semi-democratic aristocratic Republic, and also when it came under the autocratic rule of the Caesars…when the Senate, and especially the People, of Rome no longer held any real power. “SPQR” under the Caesars was like a constitutional monarch permitted to remain on the throne as a symbol after the military overthrew his country’s democratically-elected government.

At the dedication this weekend for the new United States Air Force Memorial in Arlington, Virginia, President Bush said, quite correctly, that “A long blue line of heroes has defended freedom in the skies above.”

The Secretary of the Air Force, Michael Wynne, said “This memorial is a brilliant symbol of freedom and the spirit of flight.”

Ross Perot, Jr., a former Air Force member who can afford to be a chairman of the memorial’s board of trustees thanks to his dad, said “This memorial says to everybody who visits, today and tomorrow, ‘This is the spirit that helped build the Air Force. This is the sacrifice that helped defend our freedom. This is the courage that helped build our nation.’”




Let’s talk about freedom.

What does “freedom” really mean? How many Americans give a crap, what with their mp3 players, their cell phones, their SUVs, their high gas prices, their MySpace, TiVo and their American Idol, what freedom really is? How many Americans appreciate why they can watch what they want to watch, say what they want to say without fear, go after the job they want to go after, and vote for who they want to vote for?

How often does the average American think about what courage it took to create our country, and what courage it takes to defend it now? How often does the average American read over the works of Benjamin Franklin, peruse the Federalist Papers, or examine the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution? How often do those engaged in the debate over gun control actually take a look at what the other amendments comprising the Bill of Rights say, about things other than “the right to bear arms”?

We Americans love our “freedom”, though I think we only really appreciate it on days when terrorists fly passenger jets into skyscrapers.

Self-righteous Hollywood stars like George Clooney think they are entitled to be taken seriously whenever they speak out about certain issues because, well, they are stars. Self-righteous commentators like Ann Coulter think they can insult whoever they want because, well, everyone else is wrong.

But they can only do that because the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and subsequent amendments, court decisions, government policies, and certain events helped foster a system, society and culture where ill-informed or arrogant “influential” people can thrive on playing on the general public’s general ignorance about a great many things. Thus emerges a situation in which whatever is said by the famous seems to be an expert opinion instead of just a prominent opinion.

“Freedom” is a word bandied about so much that the risk of it becoming as misunderstood or devalued as “conservative”, “liberal” and “love” is dangerously high. We take “conservative” to mean one thing, and “liberal” to mean another, and then use these terms either as a blanket endorsement or condemnation of someone or something.

For example, we associate “conservative” with “right wing”. Were the Nazis, on the far right-wing of the political spectrum, conservatives? In that they sought to uphold certain ingrained Germanic values, and thrived on that long-cherished European tradition of anti-Semitism, the Nazis were indeed politically “conservative”. In that they wanted to control everything, the National Socialist German Worker’s Party was definitely “big government” – not, technically, conservative.

And we associate “liberal” with “left wing”. We think of Communists or socialists as “left wingers”. Was the Communist Party of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics made up of a bunch of liberals? How would that label – we’re told liberals are anti-war, after all – square with the Soviet Union invading Poland from the east in 1939 after the Nazis invaded from the west? Didn’t those “left-wing liberals” in the USSR place nukes in Cuba in the 1960s, and invade Afghanistan in 1979? Maybe they were really right-wing liberals – or left-wing conservatives.

Did you know that the Liberal Party in the Commonwealth of Australia is actually, ideologically, conservative? Those blokes and sheilas Down Under in Oz sure are wacky!

A man might say “I love you” to a woman in order to try to get her into bed. Will one day our leaders speak of “freedom” just to seduce us, to rubberize our knees and emotionally compel us to comply with their desires and plans?

Or will this word, “freedom”, lose its meaning and patriotic value, becoming for us an emotional burden we no longer wish to be enslaved to or even hear about?

Paying lip-service to “freedom” like a broken record will not, in and of itself, help true freedom to endure. For many around the world, “freedom” as applied to the U.S.A. refers to luxury, wealth, decadence and materialism. So what? America has been blessed – and Americans work hard to capitalize on those blessings and make the country and themselves more successful, and more powerful. The rest of the world needs to deal with that, and take more than a lesson or two from the American playbook, instead of envying us and holding our success against us.

BUT if Americans think of “freedom” only abstractly, in a primarily materialistic way, forgetting everything else that the word “freedom” implies – politically, socially, culturally, technologically, scientifically, educationally, philosophically, etc. – then “freedom” might in the future become for America what “SPQR” became for Rome: empty; an idea formerly full of meaning; underappreciated and taken for granted by the populace; and an overused word later all but disposed of, kept alive and employed only when someone powerful wants to get us into bed.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

A Lack of Evidence

“Listening to some Democrats, you'd think the enemy was George Bush, not Kim Jong Il…”

– Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky

What evidence is there – at all – that the Democrats would have handled North Korea any differently than the Bush Administration? None! The most important agenda, the most important aspect about the Democratic platform the past few years has been nothing more than “oppose Bush”!

Let’s go back in time: What exactly did President Clinton do about North Korea? He signed an agreement with Pyongyang in the mid-1990s that the North Koreans immediately, and secretly, set about violating.

If Al Gore had secured the Oval Office instead of George W. Bush, would we have even gone to war in Afghanistan to go after the Taliban and al-Qaeda after the events of September 11, 2001? When our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were bombed in 1998, what did President Bill Clinton do? He lobbed a few cruise missiles at some training camps in Afghanistan and not much else. While I don’t blame him for 9/11, we shouldn’t forget that it was under Clinton’s watch in 1996 that Osama bin Laden issued his fatwa, his declaration of war, against the United States.

How would John Kerry have handled North Korea if he’d won the election of 2004? Any differently? He probably would have signed more agreements with the North Koreans that they would have violated – because who can really trust a dictatorial regime that spends millions on R&D for nuclear weapons while the vast majority of its people starve? Since the North Koreans had already violated all their past agreements with Washington, what would have been the point of wasting the paper on another one?

I don’t disagree: the way the war in Iraq is being run is laughable, dangerously so. I don’t see what benefits Donald Rumsfeld brings to the Pentagon, and now that I’ve heard the Army is lowering some of its standards because it wouldn’t otherwise meet its recruitment goals, my opinion on the matter is only strengthened – and this is the case even when taking into account that a person’s worth to the Army, and America, might be more than their test scores or criminal records would lead one to believe.

It would be better if President Bush stopped talking about the need to “stay the course in Iraq”, and instead spoke of a need to “do the job right in Iraq”. But given that President Bush, far from going it alone, got the Chinese, the Russians, the South Koreans and the Japanese involved with the effort to disarm North Korea through negotiations, he can hardly be blamed for dropping the ball on this one. I mean, how often have the Democrats (along with the French) deplored this administration’s “unilateralism”? Would they have done any different?

No. They probably would have, once North Korea threatened a ballistic missile test like it did in July, agreed to the talks demanded by Pyongyang in return for scrubbing such a test. Then, seeing that they’d gotten away with that sort of blackmail, the North Koreans likely would have threatened to detonate a nuclear weapon to drag any sort of Democrat-run White House back to the negotiating table in order to butt-rape America once again and get something else they wanted.

And the Iranians, seeing this, would be even more assertive than they have been about their own nuclear program. The Iranians would’ve demanded direct negotiations, and any Democrat who was in the Oval Office would have agreed, and like their allies the North Koreans, the Iranian state-sponsors of terrorism would have publicly agreed to suspend their nuclear research program in English while in secret they would have – in Persian – ordered their scientists to continue development of nuclear weapons.

I’m sorry, but I don’t buy the argument of New Jersey’s Senator Bob Menendez, a Democrat, that Bush “went to sleep at the switch” over North Korea “while he pursued his narrow agenda in Iraq.” I cannot picture, at all, Howard Dean or John Kerry being able to take a tough, meaningful stance against North Korea. John Edwards, maybe. Joe Lieberman, maybe. Not all Democrats are as weak on national security as Republicans make them out to be, and some likely do have the guts to defend the United States in the necessary manner.

Yes, Bush might have ignored warnings about an impending Islamist attack in the summer of 2001. Yes, Bush focused on Iraq more than on North Korea.

That’s the past.

We’ve got to deal with the present.

Whether the bomb the North Koreans detonated on Monday was a full-fledged nuclear weapon or a wanna-be nuke, their actions and declarations related to it have shown that the course of negotiations as prescribed by Democrats, the Russians and the Chinese – as well as the South Koreans – were too weak, too spineless, and not at all appropriate. China and Russia, North Korea’s two best friends, have a record of obstructing the imposition of meaningful sanctions by the U.N. Security Council – will this remain the case with the sanctions now under consideration in New York?

I can’t blame Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe for voicing his opinion that his country’s constitution needs to be revised to allow Japan to more vigorously defend itself. I prefer a strong Japan to a weak diplomatic process in northeast Asia that got, well, pretty much nothing in return for its existence except missile tests and test explosions. Thanks, in no small part, are to be directed toward Moscow and Beijing.

I think it’s time the Democrats stop telling us what they wouldn’t have done in Iraq or wouldn’t have done with regards to North Korea. Now’s the time to demonstrate what they will do with these situations. If all they will do is pull the troops out and champion an ass-covering National Intelligence Estimate that says not that others are choosing terrorism, but that we are causing it – wasn’t it an NIE in 2002 or 2003 that said Iraq had WMDs? – what good will that do us?

Should we negotiate in good faith with those who only negotiate in bad faith?

Didn’t Bill Clinton try that sort of thing with Pyongyang?

Didn’t it kind of, like…um, y’know…not work?

When it comes to the present situation involving the world and the undemocratic Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, let’s judge President Bush in the coming days and months by not only what he says, but what he does – just like the Democrats should be judged. They can blame Bush all they want right now for letting things get to this point, but they can’t prove that they would have acted any differently.